A Point Of Order G.A. Dwyer Astaphan I’m fairly sure that the most frequently used term in the Parliament of St. Kitts & Nevis over the past three years or so, apart from ‘Mr. Speaker’, has been ‘A Point of Order’. And I’m also fairly sure that at least ninety percent of the times when the term has been used, it has come from the mouth of Denzil Douglas or one of his colleagues. There are Rules under which the proceedings of Parliament are conducted. And all utterances, comments, activities, etc., that take place in accordance with these Rules are said to be “in order”, while anything that breaches the Rules is “out of order”. Accordingly, a Point of Order is a mechanism within the Rules which allows a member to challenge something that another member is saying or doing. For example, if I’m addressing the Parliament and I say something which you believe to be in breach of the Rules, then you might seek the Speaker’s permission to rise on a Point of Order and, once permitted by the Speaker to do so, you’re allowed to rise and briefly point out my alleged breach of the Rules. If the Speaker agrees with you, then the Point of Order is taken and I’m guided by the Speaker accordingly. But whichever way the Speaker rules, there’s no debate, the matter is finished, and I continue my with presentation, or the proceedings otherwise continue, as the case may be. That’s how it’s supposed to work. But that’s not how it has worked in our Parliament over the past three or so years, especially. What has happened instead is that the Point of Order has been turned into mockery, and used and abused to interrupt (and note that interrupting a member who is on his or her feet is prohibited by the Rules), and to contradict, bully, distract and disrupt. This was part of the overall degeneration and mongrelisation of Parliament, and of governance generally, that we endured in this country during the Douglas era. And in the process of interrupting, contradicting, bullying, distracting and disrupting, the member rising on the so-called Point of Order would seize the opportunity, given the failure of the Speaker to stop him or her, and speak for as long as possible. In fact, not just one speech, but the more the merrier, because the objective was to secure for themselves as much ‘talk time’ as possible. I can recall members rising on so-called Points of Order and being allowed to speak, saying all manner of things, for ten or more minutes on it. No way those could’ve been Points of order. There’s also something in debate called a ‘Point of Information’. And a member can rise on a ‘Point of Information’ to make a comment or ask a question of another member who is on his or her feet, but the member seeking to raise the ‘Point of Information’ has only about fifteen seconds to do so, and, in any case, the other member isn’t compelled to allow the Point of information to be raised. And there’s no debate on this. The rationale behind these mechanisms is that while a member who is on his or her feet is obliged to make his or her presentation within Rules, he or she must also be protected by the Rules against unwarranted and unfair interruptions. The proceedings must be conducted with robustness and word swordsmanship, but also with respect for each other, for the Rules, for the Parliament and for the nation. And just as they’ve been doing with their so-called Points of Order, the Douglas group have also misused so-called Points of Information (although less frequently) as a licence to make mini, and sometimes not-so-mini, speeches, and, as I’ve said, to interrupt, contradict, bully, distract and disrupt. They were allowed to do so while they were in Government. And they’re trying to continue it, now that they’re the Opposition in this new Parliament, under our new Speaker. And as I listened in part to yesterday’s and today ‘s sittings, I observed how they were testing the new Speaker to see how far they could go with him. It’ll be interesting to see how tightly he keeps them in line. I heard him on a couple occasions informing members that their Points of Order were not true Points of Order, and he was correct, but he did so after they had already spoken for several minutes. I hope he realizes that he’s dealing with individuals who, if given an inch, would take a mile. Meanwhile, for the record, although they were blatantly in the majority, the Douglas crew weren’t the only ones rising on artificial Points of Order. I also noted the almost constant jabbering, again preponderantly on the Opposition side. It made listening more difficult and it, in my opinion, demeaned the proceedings and the participants. It might be useful to consider turning on the microphones only of the Speaker and the member who is on his or her feet at the time. This would block out the cacophony of jabbering and make it easier, more pleasant and more palatable for the people of this country to follow the proceedings in their Parliament. And it would force members to lift the quality of their presentations and overall performances in Parliament. Now with all of that said, while the new Speaker has very quickly and admirably demonstrated the desire to restore pedigree to the once degraded and disgraced Parliament, it’s necessary to note that in order to do so, Points of Order, Points of Information and other mechanisms, and the overall conduct of the affairs of Parliament have to proceed within the Rules. One of the things that I enjoyed with this week’s Parliament was that, for the first time in five years, we had a Deputy Speaker. House in Order! Or getting there.